Continuing the Discussion: The Next Superpower: America’s Views on China and Europe

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Guest Contributor
SAIS Washington 

In his opening remarks, Dr. Moravcsik stated that Americans frequently overestimate China and underestimate Europe. As an American, I was an instant skeptic.

In recent decades, China has firmly wedged its way into the American worldview as a rival, a natural and capable one. China, to an American, is a very important country, perhaps due to its colossal economy, its impressive growth or the dark and lingering shadow of communism. We imagine it filled with an endless supply of cheap labor and resources, all shrewdly managed in near-secrecy by anonymous men in dark suits.

Europe, on the other hand, is the Old Country, chock full of castles, croissants and most people’s great-great-grandparents. It is a perfectly lovely continent for wealthy Americans to go on vacation. Nonetheless, in the classic American opinion, Europe is far from a world power. This is the fundamental paradigm that Dr. Moravcsik attempted to shift, but the results were mixed. While he debunked the myth of Chinese superiority, his appraisal of Europe was unconvincing.

Demonstrating that China is not the big, scary monster-in-the-closet that is going to take over the globe is a difficult task, especially when the primarily American audience has been raised on a steady diet of “rising China” media hype. However, Dr. Moracvsik had no trouble using a few key statistics to burst those bubbles. In particular, he pointed out that while Chinese GDP is enormous, it is significantly less impressive per capita. He included data on military spending, and noted that the Chinese military presence exists almost nowhere outside of China. Based on Dr. Moracvsik presentation, the Chinese dragon is still asleep, because it will likely be a long time before China is able to catch up to US-levels of economic and military power.

Alas, when Dr. Moracvsik applied the same logic to the European Union, the argument was less successful. On the one hand, he again played with enlightening statistics that revealed the continent as an industrious economic powerhouse. However, just before I was sucked into believing the EU was the greatest threat to American hegemony, I paused. The EU may be more productive than previously imagined, their military presence larger and better equipped than previously thought, but the EU is still not a state. Upon questioning, Dr. Moracvsik failed to make a convincing case for the consideration of the EU as a state-equivalent sui generis entity. He focused on the idea of convergent interests as a binding force within Europe, but convergent interests can be found around the world. Where does that logic end?

Unfortunately, the lecture was over before I could discover the logical terminus. Dr. Moracvsik presented an interesting premise and forced Americans to reconsider their typical worldview, which regards China as a highly dangerous adversary and Europe as a quaint backwater. Nevertheless, I cannot conclude the EU is superpower material, at least not until something stronger than “convergent interests” is holding it together.

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